Reminding Mrs Brighton That Tow Truck Operators Save Lives.
The video monitor revealed the anger in Gloria Brighton’s eyes as she searched for the object of her frustration. It wasn’t me or anyone in particular she was looking for– just a whipping boy to release two days worth of pent-up anxiety caused by confusion and loss of control.
Mrs. Brighton’s baby boy had been involved in an accident, and his car was now in our storage shed.
“My son is in the hospital, and I need to get some stuff out of his car.” These were the first words out of Mrs. Brighton’s mouth as she pushed my office door open.
I was sitting at my desk until that moment and immediately rose to my feet to greet her. “Ok,” I said, “Which car is your son’s?”
She pointed to the mangled 2010 Mazda that had been involved in a rollover.
I remembered seeing the invoice for the Mazda cross my desk and asking the driver about the level of difficulty.
The recovery was rather involved and required quite a bit of finesse to remove the vehicle from a cluster of cedars while avoiding a concrete culvert. I’d hoped the car was fully insured so we’d get paid.
Mrs. Brighton and I walked out to take a look at what was left of her son’s car.
There it sat on two wheels only– with broken glass and twisted metal protruding in different directions. She drew in a breath and looked inside. I cautioned her to be careful, explaining that “The fine glass shards are like dust and can become lodged in your skin very easily– but they’re hard to get out.”
Ignoring my warning, she poked her hand in the driver’s side window and grabbed a few things. As she walked to the other side, she abruptly asked. “Why is my son’s car here?”
I explained that we bring wrecked vehicles to our storage shed for safekeeping until the owner can contact the insurance company and decisions for the vehicle’s disposal can be made.
She angrily furrowed her brow and shot back, “What kind of decisions?”
I started to answer but paused as I noticed the veins in her forearms become engorged with blood as she pried open the rear passenger door and began rummaging through the clothes in the back seat.
“Well…ma’am,” I was nervous but wasn’t sure why. “…You know, decisions like what to do with the car…Is the vehicle repairable, or is it a total loss?”
She peered up at me from inside the car. Her distrusting gaze and a pause in the conversation seemed to suggest that we, the towing company, had done something wrong.
She then spouted, “It’s totaled…wouldn’t you say?” She didn’t even try to mask her sarcasm as she let out an audible grunt while wrestling with some sort of treasure from beneath the seat.
Immediately I felt like I was in the 4th grade, in front of the entire class, and the teacher had just asked me a question, the answer to which I did not know.
But I gained my composure, pulled myself back– out of the classroom, slowly shook my head from side to side, and said, “Yep…it’s a gonner.”
My aim with this woman was to avoid being on opposite sides of the fence. There was no need. Unless…??
Then it hit me.
Like the rancid smell of moldy sourdough bread on a humid August afternoon, my Spidey senses alerted me to the possibility that the wreck she was rummaging through had liability-only insurance.
Coming back to the moment, I noticed that my flaccid attempt to relate with Mrs. Brighton didn’t work. “Gonner, huh?” She said as she brushed my shoulder to get past.
In those two simple words, she let me have it.
What I took her comment to mean, and what I’m sure she implied, was that—we (meaning all towing companies) were ambulance chasers whose only function was to prey on the unfortunate.
Tow Truck Operators Save Lives For Liability Only Insurance
But the truth was– I was the one about to be preyed upon. My intuition whispered once again that the car was underinsured, and Mrs. B was gathering her son’s belongings with the intention of leaving without paying our tow bill.
At this point, I’d had enough.
As I opened my mouth to defend myself and my industry…As I mustered the resolve to mount a counterattack in the name of all that is righteous and holy…
…The phone rang.
Frustrated…I shut my mouth, opened the office door, and answered the call.
About 10 minutes later, the phone call ended, and Mrs. Brighton walked into my office and sat down.
No longer was my blood boiling at her implications. I had completely let it go. This wouldn’t be the first time a bill would go unpaid. (I’ll just sell it) I thought.
Looking at her and smiling, I asked, “All set?”
Nothing — She just fiddled with her phone and her purse while I waited.
Finally…“How much is it?” She said without looking up.
I was right!
Say it with me… “Liability Only.”
Accepting the situation for what it was, I found the invoice and told her how much…And she sighed.
But not just a normal sigh like — “wow” or “that’s a bit much.”
This was one of those elongated, over-the-top, church-song performance-type sighs.
I couldn’t help but stare as she slowly and silently moved her head from side to side five or six times without saying a word.
Maintaining eye contact, Mrs. B finally let out a heavy, cumbersome, and shameful… Wooooooh Hoooooo! And then a couple of “Mmnn, Mmnn, Mmnns” for good measure. Just to be sure I got the message.
She then stood up to leave. Her suspicions had been confirmed. In her mind, we were scoundrels, and now she was exasperated and needed to go. She had no idea of the level of difficulty I must endure retaining tow truck operators through the seasons. And the challenges that we must surmount on a day-to-day basis. None of it. But there she stood, scowling in disapproval.
Now…I could have just let her go. I could have taken the abuse and gone about my business—But I didn’t…I couldn’t.
I decided to tell her about an experience I’d had on Interstate 70 a few years back.
“Let me tell you a story,” I said.
“This is something that happened to me about 20 years ago. I was driving down Interstate 70 near Kansas City at about 75 mph. I was next to a Ford Ranger, and as we topped a small hill, there was a sea of red lights in front of us. Hundreds of cars were stopped on the road ahead. They were too close for us to just hit the brakes and stop. So, to avoid slamming into them, I took the shoulder and ran off the road into the grass. But the guy in the Ranger didn’t see the lights in time and didn’t have the same escape route. On his side of the road, there was no shoulder, and he ran up and over a guard rail. The guardrail was part of an overpass, and he rode the aluminum rail for a short while, but then the truck fell head-first down into the traffic below. This all happened in a split second as I was attempting to get control of my car….”
Mrs. Brighton stood there listening with her hand on the doorknob, unimpressed.
I continued, “I was ok–but the guy in the Ranger didn’t make it. The next day I read that two other people died there in that rash of accidents along I-70. It was due to what was called a chain reaction. Nowadays, we call them secondary accidents.”
She interrupted me. “That’s a sad story, but what does that have to do with anything?”
I said, “I don’t expect you to understand, but every day I’m sending good men out there to risk their lives so that others don’t lose theirs. Besides freeing the roadway of obstructions, tow truck operators do what they do so that accident vehicles don’t become a spectacle…a driving distraction.
In essence, when we remove distractions that could cause chain reactions, we’re saving lives. It’s something I’m very proud to say I’m able to be a part of.”
Now the truth is—I’m sure that while telling Mrs. Brighton that story, it wasn’t as polished as I’ve recounted here, but I believe I got the point across because she did not respond. No bellowing, no sighs. No looks of disapproval. She just opened the door and left.
And I felt much better.